The Magazine of Dark Fiction
Published by: Elder Signs Press, Inc.
Editor: William Jones
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Here it is – a brand new year. A chance to start anew – to clean the slate and begin afresh. We all make resolutions about how we plan to change our lives in the new year. Most of us never keep those resolutions, but a select few of us manage to keep the promises we make to ourselves and pull off something miraculous. I think the folks at Dark Wisdom: The Magazine of Dark Fiction decided to do just that with their first offering for the new year. Issue #10 is perhaps the best issue I have read and a perfect way to open 2007.
We begin with the Mad Ramblings of Editor William Jones who discusses the “fusion” of several different genres in today’s novels. I have to laugh at finding this editorial, because I was in Barnes & Noble just prior to reading it and was wondering what section I would find a certain novel in. I had just been ranting that nothing could just be placed under an all-encompassing title such as fiction. No! Now it has to be fiction, mystery, romance, sci-fi, horror, etc. In William Jones’ editorial, we discuss the possibility of a new fiction title – fusion fiction. “Those who enjoy definitive lines between genres are likely to be cringing at this moment. Others who’ve read authors who ignore genre boundaries are probably wondering what’s new here?” I’m a member of the second group. William Jones has a knack for the written word and I haven’t found one editorial by him that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.
I love the titles that separate the dark stories from the other sections of the magazines. We have Mad Ramblings, which is the editorial section. Following this is Ominous Messages. That would be letters from the fans in case you couldn’t figure it out. The reviews of movies, games and other media are parked under the title Wickedly Entertaining. It’s simply a clever way to separate each section and something I thought worth mentioning.
Now, on to the stories found in Issue #10 and a brilliant lot of them there are! The first of the lot, Dead Men Talk A Lot by William C. Dietz. I am a huge fan of Dietz ever since he wrote the Kyle Katarn series of Star Wars graphic novels. I couldn’t wait to read this tale, set in an entirely different genre than what I was used to from the man. I was in no way disappointed. Imagine if the dead weren’t gone forever. What if someone found a way to talk to them? I don’t mean through a psychic. I mean that you could talk with your dearly departed one over the telephone, via A.T.&T.’s Call Heaven line. Greg Altman had a brilliant future ahead of him, but some wrong turns had led him down a path of drugs and destruction. In one of his drug-induced states, he assists in a bank robbery gone wrong. When it’s all over, Greg discovers that he is wanted for murder – his partner had killed a police officer while attempting to get away – an unsuccessful getaway, as Greg’s friend Larry ends up getting himself killed. On the lam with nowhere to run, Greg decides it would be a good idea to call Larry and find out where he stashed the bank loot before ending up dead. The story is well thought out and enjoyable. I never expected to find Greg to be a likeable character, but by the end, I was rooting for him to succeed. Well done Mr. Dietz.
Yakov and the Crows by E. Sedia is a haunting tale about a Russian man struggling to survive the death of his beloved wife. Yakov is trying to go on without his beloved Maria when one day, he is visited at his job by a crow. Yakov has seen crows before, but something about this one reminds him of his departed wife. He finds himself looking forward to seeing the crow at his windowsill, looking for the lunch bag he keeps there every day. When someone decides to do something about the crows stealing Yakov’s coworkers’ food, Yakov is mortified. The finale of the tale is not surprising, but incredibly fitting. I loved the way this story was written. The ethnicity of the author is readily apparent and lends authenticity to the tale. I can’t wait to read more of Sedia’s writing.
Haven’t had enough of the spooky tales? Then, it’s onward to The Lake of Shadows by Stephen Mark Rainey. Told in the first person, this tale is chillingly haunting. A man and his wife struggle to understand why their nineteen-year-old college student daughter committed suicide. One year after her death, they decide to visit the location of her untimely death, a lake in Virginia…a twenty minute drive from their home in Bassett. Once there, the couple experiences a frightening encounter with the macabre. It is immediately apparent that something otherwordly is occupying that lake…something that may have caused their Sarah to take her own life. Something alluring, yet monstrous. When I say that this story is spooky, I’m not kidding. This one will actually cause the shorthairs on your neck to stand at attention. Stephen Mark Rainey is extremely descriptive – you can actually see the scene unfolding before you. An excellent read.
The Generosity of Strangers by Michael McBride is wickedly entertaining. A college student, with mere days before his thesis is to be turned in, begins to receive phone calls from a man claiming he is about to commit suicide. At first Jared speaks to the man out of curiosity, but afterwards Jared decides that this man will become the subject of his thesis. He simply has to keep the man on the phone and pick his brain as to why he wants to kill himself. Little does Jared know that the tables are about to be turned. I loved the horrific twist in this tale, not to mention the twist of emotion throughout. At first you find sympathy for the main character, then you find him to be a total jerk, then you are mortified by him, and finally…well, if I told you, I’d be giving the ending away. Can’t do that, can I?
Magic Words by Gene O’Neill is a chilling tale of black magic, greed, and evil ideations. Lucas Somerville is an ad executive about to be handed a star account, a new reggae star named Daz L. All he has to do is find the right way to market Daz L. and a new line of cologne designed just for the artist. However, Lucas has been on a downward slide at the ad agency. This is his final break. If he can’t strike gold with this account, he’s finished. A woman who deals in the art of black magic gives him the inspiration he needs, but, of course, it comes with a price. O’Neill is an artist in the descriptiveness category. He knows just the right way to describe the location and how any particular character is feeling at the moment: “The foul odors seemed to cling at street level, held in by the ever-present fog, even pervading and adhering to his clothes like cigarette smoke…Above all, Luke Somerville detested the stale, acrid-sour smell of the homeless – the stink of failure.” Eventually, when Luke is forced to pay his price, the reader is satisfied – this is not a nice man and he deserves everything he gets.
Early by Jay Caselberg is a tale about a haunting…a haunting that takes place before the person is actually dead! This is another story told in the first person…sometimes this style is even scarier than a tale told in the third person. It makes you feel as though you are the one experiencing the haunting. It’s a spooky tale with a twist at the end that will surprise the reader. However, I think it should have been a tad longer. I think there could have been more details regarding the haunting than were in this story. Enjoyable, but too short in my opinion.
Memories, Red and Wet by Christopher Welch, is one of my favorites in this issue. This is the first time I have ever read a zombie tale that gave the reader the zombie’s perspective on its life. I was quite literally glued to the pages thinking how clever this story was. Welch immediately draws you in to the main character and makes you want to know more – how did they become a zombie, what were they before this happened, what makes them feed – all of these questions and more are answered in this incredible short story. I’m not a big fan of the zombie story. I think it’s been done so many times that it’s been done - pardon the pun - to death. However, this is an entirely new take on the zombie tale and I found myself quite willing to read more than the four pages this story encompasses. Kudos to Christopher Welch for making me a zombie sympathizer!
The final story in this issue, Paradigm Wash by Ann K. Schwader, is part one of a two-part tale. Cassie Barrett is looking to enjoy a cheap vacation from the latest miseries visited upon her by Twenty Mile, a cattle ranch she had inherited from her parents. Her foreman’s solution, an archeology dig his niece has taken part in. This is no ordinary vacation from the norm and Cassie finds herself in the midst of a mystery involving the macabre. For some reason, I found this to be the least enjoyable story in the lot. The main character was well-written, but the tale just didn’t capture me. In fact, it failed to catch my interest so much that if I never get to read the second half of the tale, I will not lose any sleep over it.
This brings us to the other sections of the magazine. Rookie Blues by Writer at Large Richard A. Lupoff is a terrific article giving us insight into how a writer develops his characters and storylines. This series of articles is extremely informative. A writer myself, I find it fun to compare writing styles with an oft-published writer like Lupoff. The Wickedly Entertaining section of Dark Wisdom offers up a review of the film Onmyoji, a dark Japanese fantasy set in an early period in Japanese history where demons and sorcery are acceptable practices of they day; Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth, an Xbox game of Lovecraftian proportions; In the Mouth of Madness, a John Carpenter horror flick, Nochnoy Dozor (Night Watch), a Russian horror flick, and the Hidden Horrors of the dark artists Eddie Allen and Richard Allen Poppe. The reviews are informative and actually have me wondering about partaking in some of the films. I even visited the websites of the dark artists to have a look at their creations. Strange Happenings offers up a look at The Enigmatic Spirit City: Xieng Khuan, a five acre sculpture garden located in the country of Laos. As a lover of history, I was totally intrigued by this article which not only gives a detailed description of the garden, but also relates the history of its creation. The Dark Library offers up some Whispers From the Librarian – yet another discussion about the confining idea known as a genre – and review of The Pale Ape and Other Pulses, a collection of M.P. Shiel stories; Already Dead by Charlie Huston, a vampire tale set in Manhattan; The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius, a horror/fantasy novel written around 180A.D.; Hook House and Other Horrors, a compilation of Sherry Decker horror stories; Corpse Blossoms, a compilation of 24 stories written for Creeping Hemlock Press; H.P. Lovecraft: A Life by S.T. Joshi, a 708-page biography about the famous author; Daikaiju!: Giant Monster Tales, a compilation of stories about creatures that rival Godzilla in size and ferocity; and Dracula’s Guest, a compilation of short stories written by Bram Stoker.
The Film Vault gives us its unique three-person review of the film Bubba Ho-Tep, a horror film starring Bruce Campbell as a washed up Elvis who is not dead, but living out his life in a nursing home recently besieged by a murderous mummy. This issue also supplies an interview with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, a professional writer who has sold more than 80 books, 70 short stories and dozens of essays and reviews. She is most noted for her novels centering around the increasingly popular vampire Saint-Germain. This was an interesting read. The one thing I truly enjoy about epic vampire tales is that they are historical novels as well. In the interview, we learn that Yarbro does a great deal of historical study before writing her novels. Noted for the accuracy of her research, it was nice to learn just how much work Yarbro puts in to make certain that her novels are historically correct. As always, Dark Wisdom serves us a plethora of dark poetry, all from talented individuals who certainly know their way around the written word. Smack dab in the center of the magazine is the graphic tale Burning Bright by Jason Whitley and William Jones. So far, I am intrigued. The main character of the tale reminds me of that of Underworld. I love the tough, no-nonsense heroine and can’t wait to see more.
All-in-all, I would say that if Dark Wisdom keeps up the good work, 2007 will be one helluva great year for the magazine! The artwork combined with the writing in Issue #10 is nothing short of incredible. I loved this issue, cover to cover. If there was ever a time to take a stab at reading some dark fiction, this would be the time to sample it in the magazine dedicated to dark fiction, Dark Wisdom!